Archive for the ‘Review’ Tag

Ghostbusters 2016 In Review   1 comment

Ugh, what title to use… “Ain’t Afraid Of No Reboots”?  No… “Blockbusters Make Me Feel Good”?  No…  “Who Ya Gonna-“… oh, hi there!  Sorry, wasn’t quite ready, I was… I couldn’t think of a good title.  I’m just gonna… let’s just start the review.

Ghostbusters 2016 might not have been the most anticipated film of the year, but it was definitely one of the most talked about, and a lot of that talk was negative.  Like, strongly negative.  Like, unreasonably, angrily negative.  Some of it was a bit more reasonably negative, but the whole general tone seemed to fit on a three-point scale between “They’re ruining my childhood”, “Ugh, I can’t believe that they’re trying to reboot everything”, and most infamously “Ghostbusters are supposed to be dudes!”

The fact that nearly all of the previous cast of Ghostbusters were okay with the film being led by a female cast didn’t really seem to matter.  The fact that before this movie there were other movies and that this movie wasn’t going to be like those other movies in some way was an insurmountable obstacle for many.

Having said that, my birthday was July 15th, the opening day of the film, and I wanted to see a movie as part of my birthday celebrations.  Part of me wanted to see Warcraft, but Ghostbusters felt like it’d be more enjoyable.  Then, when I checked movie times, I discovered that Warcraft had actually been out of theaters for weeks now.  Ghostbusters was inevitable (though I still wanna see Tarzan, despite all the negative reviews.  I’m a sucker for pulp fiction.)  Enough preamble: on to the show!

ghostbusters-2016-movie-trailer

Naturally, a few spoilers will follow.

First things first, this movie’s script managed to pull off a really difficult trick: they created a story that fits the Ghostbusters aesthetic without just being a rehashing of what had come before.  One of the most frequently levied criticisms of The Force Awakens was that The Force Awakens was pretty much just a beat for beat imitation of A New Hope, and many (myself included) feel that this hurt the movie.  The creators of A New Hope were trying to rekindle a lot of the feeling of the first movie to assist in bridging the gap between old and new fans, and while I think the movie was “generally good”, I think it fell short.  J. J. Abrams himself has said that he went too far with this and would probably have toned it down had he known what people’s reactions to it would have been.

This movie, on the other hand, has a lot of fun nods to the original two movies but doesn’t make its plot beholden to anything that’s come before.  Rowan North, our villain, is played by Neil Casey, and he’s someone who reminds me of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters 2, but only indirectly.  He’s the sort of person who would research people like Vigo and hope that he could imitate them.  He doesn’t have a consuming obsession with figures from the past *cough*Kylo Ren*cough* but he is *very* aware of how these sorts of things work, and seeks out methods of bringing about his own power.  The movie doesn’t really focus on if the villain is working out some prophecy, or if “The Fourth Cataclysm” is a product of his own design, but I think dwelling on that would have slowed the movie down.  He’s ultimately a mad scientist who’s tapping into supernatural forces and incorporating magic and the occult into his work.  I liked what he brought to the production, even if I felt that his acting was underplayed at times (the part of “despised genius who’s decided that the rest of society isn’t worth saving” is actually tricky to pull off, in my opinion; too much and you’re chewing scenery, and too little makes you seem drab.)  They leaned too far in the drab direction when I feel like they should’ve gone in the scenery chewing direction; there were times in the movie when he wasn’t on screen and you could only get his voice, and I think at those times he really shined as a character, and I think if he’d acted on-screen as he did when he was off-screen he could’ve been a scene stealer.

Enough about the villain, though; this movie has four main characters who did a great job.  It’s really, really, REALLY tempting to look at each character and compare them to the original four Ghostbusters, but I think such a comparison would be unfair and inaccurate.  The closest comparison that can be made is between Melissa McCarthy playing Abby Yates and Dan Akroyd’s Ray… uh, Ray… *frantically searches IMDB* Ray Stantz.  …huh.  I only remember him being called Ray in those movies.  Anyway, the closest comparison between characters is between Abby Yates and Ray Stantz in that they’re both the scientist who’s devotedly enthusiastic about exploring the supernatural, but where Ray always had a kind of oblivious “Why wouldn’t this be interesting or believable?” optimism, Abby has a sort of “The world isn’t going to believe us, but we shouldn’t stop just because of that” cynicism.  She’s been hurt by people in the past who’ve mocked her beliefs, and even feels a betrayal from her colleague Erin Gilbert, so the sunny optimism of Ray’s character has hit some darker clouds under McCarthy’s characterization.

Speaking of Erin Gilbert, this is probably the biggest departure in terms of point for point characterizations.  Erin Gilbert, played by Kristen Wiig, is arguably the film’s protagonist, and holds a position with the group similar to Peter Venkman as played by Bill Murray by being the scientist with a foot in the “real world”, but the comparison ends there.  Venkman had a detached comical side that acted as a shield between his paranormal research and how society saw him, and he was laid back enough that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him as legitimately being a fraud or charlatan just like his opponents claimed he was.  Gilbert, on the other hand, is trying very hard to be professional and to be respected, and the fact that she used to be a paranormal researcher is a black mark that she feels could hurt her chances for becoming a tenured professor.  Actual, tangible evidence of ghosts reels her back in to the life that she abandoned, but her character keeps craving legitimacy and acceptance in the public view.  Arguably, this is the main thrust of the film: is it better to be known as legitimate, or is it better to be known as a fraud while *being* legitimate?  Gilbert’s character has to wrestle with that over the course of the film, and the question paints a well-balanced comparison to the “why can’t women be main characters in action movies?” conversation that’s been playing out over the last few decades (especially in the last few years.)

Leslie Jones plays Patty Tolan, and a comparison to Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddermore is hard to avoid; both characters represent a non-scientist who’s stepping into the job.  Neither character starts off knowing a lot about how ghosts work or what they represent, but they’re both more than capable of picking it up as they go.  In a way, Patty is a negative version of Winston because while Winston joined the Ghostbusters for a “steady paycheck”, Patty shows up for the fun of it, which in a way helps to ground her in reality more than any of the other characters.  She also knows New York history and architecture (which is convenient for knowing about all the biggest murders in town and best ways to drive around), and can provide a car to help mobilize the other members of the group, so she’s the catalyst that lets the Ghostbusters roll out faster and more efficiently.

Finally, we have Kate McKinnon playing Jillian Holtzmann.  She’s probably the most tempting comparison to make, but calling her “The Egon” isn’t accurate.  There’s a trend in sci-fi or action films to have a freewheeling tech-head or hyper competent hacker, and while Jillian Holtzmann is part of that trend I don’t feel like Egon was.  Egon was an almost emotionless calculator who, while not devoid of emotion, humor, or empathy, was certainly detached from much of what was happening in a way that brought a clinical acknowledgement to the bizarre.  Holtzmann is eager and more frantic, acting like she can’t make her new technology fast enough.  Also, no matter what she winds up seeing, she maintains the same aloof giddiness.  Arguably, the biggest comparison to Egon is unflappability since they both keep effectively the same attitude no matter the circumstances.  However, she also has two very real and very human moments in the film, one near the very end, and another during the transitional period between acts 2 and 3 where she sees a lot of her work being demolished.  There’s a moment of genuine panic and grief when the gadgets and guns she’s been working on are threatened, and I think that actual emotion keeps her character from being too one-note.  Ultimately, she’s the group’s mad scientist, and she plays the part well.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot or the jokes of the film, and it’s hard to say much more without that.  I will say that the movie contains a number of homages and references to the Ghostbusters franchise ranging from the subtle to the blatant, and many from the original cast (apart from Rick Moranis) had small cameo appearances that touched on the plot of events in the reboot.  The film isn’t set decades after the original movies, but it’s almost easy to believe that this is a parallel reality of sorts.  I doubt it is (at least, I doubt it is in any official, easy to get on paper fashion), but the movie is well aware of its roots, ranging from a smirking bust of a dearly departed buster to a familiar receptionist managing the front desk of a prestigious hotel.  The movie also makes a few reasonable jabs at its own impact on the fandom, with comments from YouTube thinking these Ghostbusters aren’t up for the job.  (I’m mostly unfamiliar with the whole “nice guys” and “fedoras” side of the Internet apart from hearing a few things from friends, but I thought it was interesting that the primary opponent of the Ghostbusters wore a fedora which was commented on as a “nice hat.”)  The movie treats these sorts of naysayers in, I think, a fair and reasonable light: thinking that it’s unfortunate that they have these opinions and even uncalled for when the meaner comments show up, but ultimately the Ghostbusters move on and keep doing their work without letting it get to them too much.

Speaking of negative YouTube comments, I think this movie had a shocking lack of violence, cursing, or gross-out humor.  Maybe I’m just desensitized to it, but I really didn’t notice much.  I’d even say that there was more in the original movie than in this, so having said that I’m surprised this film has a PG-13 rating.  I’d personally rate it as PG, although I come from the era when, as The Nostalgia Critic once put it, “PG actually meant something.”  I mean, yes, there are one or two gross jokes, and that’s not even counting the huge amount of slime (this is a Ghostbusters film, after all) but in addition to being a fun addition to the franchise I think it’s even appropriate for younger kids who can handle scary ghost images.

The movie isn’t without its flaws, but I think my complaints with the film amounted to less than thirty seconds if not less than twenty seconds, something I already said on Twitter.  Most of my problems were related to aesthetic taste, however.  Case in point: the opening scene has a few obvious jokes rather than being a straightforward ghost-story cold open like in the first Ghostbusters movie.  I would’ve preferred that opening scene to just be a regular horror story opening, with the humor coming later, but that’s not what happened.  Ultimately this isn’t something that made that first scene bad, it just made it an opening that I would’ve preferred to see tweaked.  Similarly, the movie includes Slimer, who is (in many ways) the franchise’s spirit animal.  At one point Slimer steals the Ecto-1 for a joyride, which I thought was brilliant; later, you see him still joy riding but with another lady Slimer who’s wearing a wig.  It was a funny idea, but didn’t quite work well for me (although seeing those two at the end of that subplot was great; the two Slimers getting along felt like an appropriate metaphor for the relationship of this film to the previous ones, one where they can coexist without really hampering each other, and both can have fun together.)

ghostbusterslarge

So, my final verdict: this is a great popcorn flick.  I hate calling it that because the term “popcorn flick” is usually synonymous with “bad”, and this isn’t a bad movie.  It’s good, really good.  It’s a fun piece of summer movie action that you can enjoy and have a great time with, and it’s got an attention to the craft of movie writing that most mindless blockbusters lack.  It’s not Citizen Kane… thank heaven it’s not Citizen Kane… but it’s not trying to be.  This is just a good fun movie.  Enjoy it in theaters and maybe, if we’re lucky, we can start reclaiming popcorn flicks that are enjoyable instead of popcorn flicks that are stale.  Enjoy your time at the movies, everyone!

We’ve Got MOVIE SIGN!   Leave a comment

MST3K Crowdfunding Success

Just look at that.  It’s a beautiful sight.  (A beautiful sight that Twitter user Stephen P, AKA @dim_halo has allowed me to use here.  Thanks for sharing the screenshot, Stephen!)

There’s a lot of talk about this.  Most positive, some negative.  And there are worries…

I’m worried that the show will be too “polished” and won’t actually be the same slapdash performance that I like.  I’m worried that there’s some sort of behind-the-scenes issue that a lot of the old cast and crew aren’t talking about.  I’m also worried that there’s no such issue, but that fans will imagine that there is and worry about it and bug the old and new people so much that it becomes an issue.  I’m worried that it won’t be the same.  I’m also worried that it’ll be too much of the same.  Basically, I’m a neurotic Internet fan.  But not a single one of these worries are important: what really matters is that MST3K is coming BACK, baby!  I’m giddy!

And just look at what we did.  114%!  That’s major, guys.  And that 114% is of the final 5.5 million dollar goal, not the original 2 million dollar goal.  We actually raised, like… over three hundred percent!  And it stunned and delighted everyone…

Sadly, financial pressures being what they are, I had to lower my donation just a bit.  I’m still looking forward to that printable ID card, but a lot of the higher tier rewards were REALLY nice.  I especially wanted that VHS tape…

Incidentally, if you haven’t watched the Telethon, do it now!  Well… maybe not now.  Not in its entirety.  It was a multi-hour event that featured islands of really cool entertainment and information in the midst of charming awkwardness and technical problems.  But there are a lot of moments that I predict will become big parts of MSTie nostagia.  If nothing else, the look on Joel’s face when, with almost exactly a minute to spare, the totals were updated and passed the 3.6 million dollar total.  There were also moments that some liked and others didn’t (I enjoyed the Castlevania song, though I’ve heard some claim that they actively disliked it.)

Also, did I hear Felicia Day accidentally start singing Mike’s theme song for a second before correcting herself?  I could’ve sworn she almost mumbled “Way Down in Deep 13″… funny moment.

Anyway… it’s a great week to be a MSTie.  Friends, we’re not actually living in a post-MST3K world.  We’ve simply been living in the 15+ year inter-season hiatus.

And it’s almost over.

(Incidentally, I don’t mention this often on the blog, but for the record I frequent MST3K: The Discussion Board.  If you want a place to chill and discuss the show, I’m over there from time to time.  More importantly, LOTS of people are.)

Windows Ten’s Most Important Feature   Leave a comment

So, Windows 8 had one little feature that was better than Windows 10 that I’d like to mention: Windows 8 sort of let you know over time that it had downloaded updates, and gave you chances to install those updates on your own schedule, while Windows 10 (according to some friends) just springs updates on you, ready or not.  I’ve not experienced this yet on the Windows 10 side of things, but I liked that Windows 8 kept reminding me about my free Windows 10 upgrade.  I agreed to the upgrade, let it quietly download Windows 10 in the background, and last night I set it up to make the upgrade complete.  Today I had a fresh new system to try out.  My unreliable Internet connection was sketchy at best so some parts of the upgrade were held off until I could definitively be online, but all the important pieces got put in place.

Windows 10 Desktop

I never updated my background from the default on Windows 8 (just never got around to installing my image of the Ouroboros Citadel that I used on Windows 7) so it was refreshing to see a scenic island.  I may well keep it.  I, of course, did a quick check of the Start Menu and was pleased to see that it was still there.  I don’t care for a lot of the tiles and things, but that can be changed in time (especially if I dabble in third party customization options.)  While the Start menu was, for right or wrong, the most requested change to Windows 8, scrolling through it reminded me of what’s truly important about Windows:the ability to play a card game that I could just as easily play in real life.  I’m talking, of course, about Solitaire.  So when I saw Solitaire in the Start menu, I knew it had to be my first stop on the review of everything that Windows 10 does.  I mean, if Windows can’t get Solitaire right, then we know the system is doomed.

Windows Solitaire 404

So, naturally, seeing an Internet connection error right off the bat was a bit disheartening.  However, once my knee-jerk reaction was done, I determined that this was a good thing.  This wasn’t saying “Error 404, no Internet, no cards for you, does not compute Earthling, feiopfewnifpe.”  Instead it was saying “Hey, I’d like to check the news updates for this program, but they’re not really available because the Internet’s not on, sorry!”

Further examination provided a menu.  Classic Solitaire is now called Klondike apparently (I don’t know why, but I can accept it as a name for its “variant” of the game.  I’m assuming there’s some earlier version of Solitaire, so the name “Classic” would probably upset some people who play it IRL.  Or maybe they just liked the sound of Klondike.)  This game also tracks a few things like Statistics, offers daily challenges (though they require Internet access), and even rankings.  There are ways to set this up with X-Box Live and other various things (again, they require Internet) but unlike Windows 8 these things appear optional.  Sure, it was *technically* optional in Windows 8, but in Windows 8 you had to actively search to avoid messing with those things.  Here it’s just a friendly way to play, if it’s something you care to worry about.  I’ve never been a Spider Solitaire fan and didn’t want to give the other two variations a try, so naturally my first game on Windows 10 was the Classic game.  By which I mean Klondike.

Windows Solitaire First Game

Here’s my first hand!  As you can see, it was a good arrangement.  A lot of options right off the bat.  Lots of card “syngery” in play.  (Ha!)  I messed around with this for a bit, and discovered that one of my favorite features of the classic game was still intact.  Namely, the game doesn’t auto-solve.  Instead it allows me to move cards as I see fit.  So if I turn over an Ace in the draw deck, I have the option of bringing it down to put onto a Two to net myself a few extra points.  I kept playing until, alas, I was out of moves.

Windows Solitaire First Game Failure

A tragedy of the highest magnitude, to be sure.  So I took the screenshot, saved the image, and prepared to end the game… but when I came back, I noticed a gentle highlight on the three of hearts, reminding me that my game wasn’t, in fact, over.

Windows Solitaire First Game UnFailure

I was able to maneuver this into an easy victory!  The cynic in me wondered if the first game would be rigged for people for a victory, but there’s no way to test that with just my one game.  Still, it was nice to kick off Windows 10 with a win in Solitaire.  Windows has a tradition of bringing celebratory animations to successful Solitaire games, and Klondike was no exception.

Windows Solitaire Victory Butterflies

Victory butterflies sparkled around!  It was nice.  Not great, but nice.  My favorite will always be the “jumping” playing cards that create after images of other playing cards behind them.  This had a bit of an element of that, and combined it with the fireworks that would come whenever you won a game of Mahjong in Windows 7 (another game that I’d like to see in Windows Ten.  It’s probably not here, but I’ve honestly not looked.)  So, the victory celebration in Windows Ten is nothing to write home about, but it’s certainly a nice, pleasant visual.  (To whoever worked on programming this ending: I understand the pressures of making something cool and nifty that celebrates victory without overdoing it, and I think you succeeded here.  The jumping after-images tradition is just a really tough act to follow.)

After victory, I was presented with some statistics.

Windows Solitaire First Game Victory Stats

As you can see, that’s 100% victory right there.  I HAVE NEVER FAILED AT THIS GAME on Windows 10, according to this.  I’ve always had mixed feelings about statistic keeping like this.  You can only really have a three-digit success rate until you lose, and then it’s lost forever.  I thought about preserving this 100% victory forever, never again playing Solitaire… but in my heart I knew it would be meaningless, so I instantly played another game, lost it, and dropped down to 50%.  I took no screenshot, though, so you have only my say-so.  PERHAPS I STILL HAVE 100% VICTORY AND AM NEEDLESSLY LYING?!  Nope.  But it’s a fun thought.

Anyway, Solitaire on Windows Ten is a solid addition to the Windows Solitaire tradition.  I don’t play Solitaire often on Windows, but it’s always nice knowing that it’s there as an option should I ever be bored and in the mood to kill some time.  Between this and the Start Menu, I’m optimistic about how Windows Ten will unfold.

So I Finally… Watched Baby Doll   Leave a comment

Baby Doll

So, I finally watched an episode of the Batman Animated Series that a lot of people have recommended as being one of the best of the bunch.  From random friends in real life to the perpetually cantankerous-but-delightful reviews of Doug Walker’s Nostalgia Critic, Baby Doll is met with a lot of praise.  And, in truth, I’d seen the very end of this episode ages ago, and it seemed dark and poignant and surreal in all the ways that the Batman Animated Series does when it’s at its best.

It was strange seeing the episode play out, though.  I was happy to see Paul Dini’s name in the opening credits, but after that the episode twisted and felt a bit generic.  I honestly think it’s because I knew where it was going.  The ‘punchline’, as it were.

The odd part, though?  As I reached the part of the episode I’d already seen… the episode suddenly got better.  I have to wonder if that scene was the moment that the rest of the episode was built around.  It’s a beautiful ending in a lot of ways, but the build up to it just didn’t quite seem to match.

So… everyone’s hype ruined everything, except the most hypable moment? Possible, but rare.  Ultimately, though, I did enjoy the episode, and understand why it keeps winding up on everyone’s Top Ten lists.

In other news: Gen-Con 2015 sent me through a wringer that’s made it tough to get back into the swing of things (I haven’t even done a post-Gen-Con report.  Almost seems too late at this point, despite having a fun picture to use for it.)  Also, the place where I usually record my So I Finally videos on Youtube has been uncharacteristically busy of late, and as such I’ve not been filming them.  Just when I thought I was getting the hang of YouTube, too.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and I’ll let you know the next time I have a magical monday, or the next time I finally see something new, or just the next time I have somethin’ to talk about.  Later!

James Corden Promises Late Late Show Fun   Leave a comment

Late Late Show James Corden

When Craig Ferguson announced his departure from The Late Late Show, I was shocked. It wouldn’t be too far off base to say that I went through a grieving process, something that seems more likely now that I’ve learned that people don’t go through *every* stage, instead going through at least two (in this case, for instance, I think that I didn’t experience Denial or Bargaining. I also don’t remember Anger. Is Anger one of the grief stages? I think Anger’s a grief stage.) Anyway, Craig worked to make his show the sort of talk show for people who don’t like talk shows. I don’t want to spend time here going into all the reasons that I enjoyed him as the host of the show, but it’s worth saying that Craig left some pretty big shoes to fill. I heard about the next guy, James Corden (who?) and instantly felt sorry for the guy. You’ve gotta follow Craig? You seem like a nice guy, yeah, but I don’t see how that transition’s gonna go smoothly.

Craig Ferguson’s final episode came and went (and it was an amazing episode, it even had Oom-Ra!), and there was much grieving. Craig moved on to other things in his career, and I came to love him on Celebrity Name Game. It’s a great show, and he’s still doing his stand-up comedy, so I’m no longer worried that my future will be Craig deprived. And then, The Late Late Show had a long, long time with guest hosts who I… I’m sad to say… didn’t really watch. Like I said, Craig was the host for people who didn’t like late night talk shows, so why would I want to watch a long series of people running general late night talk shows? I watched one of Drew Carrey’s nights, and it was fun, but apart from that I pretty much stayed away from it. I didn’t notice that this length of time provided an important service for James Corden; if James had followed Craig’s last episode after just a week or two, he’d have been “the guy taking over for Craig.” Instead, James wound up being “the guy who brought back the Late Late Show.” In my mind, at least. No one advertised it like that, or said it, but it’s important for me. He’s not The Rebound Host. So yesterday I saw a commercial reminding me that his first episode was mere hours away and I figured that I should give it a shot.

One element of the new show that I appreciated was a similarity to the previous one: Craig’s show had always suggested that it was a casual, laid-back thing. Craig invited you to just relax while he relaxed, and the two of you would relax together while a show happened. There was a personal touch, and James Corden’s show had a familiar personal touch from the start. The theme song invited us to just stick around and promised us that we’d have some fun. It felt inviting in a way similar to Craig Ferguson’s show, but also felt like it’s own thing. While this definitely didn’t have the “one-man show on a shoestring budget” element that Craig used, it still felt like a fun, almost homey, kind of thing.

The show opened with Corden giving a few lines of monologue, and a quick tour of the set and show before a video ran showing a Willy Wonka-esque scenario in which he became the host due to finding a golden ticket in a candy bar (that someone else bought and dropped, no less.) A number of other good host options tried finding their own candy bars (due to my recent Community kick, I especially enjoyed Joel McHale opening them in the Greendale cafeteria), but only he found the winner. This led to him going through a late night talk show boot camp of sorts, where a number of other celebrities helped to train him for doing monologues, listening to stories from the actors he interviews, and (for some reason) weight training. It was a delightful video, and instantly made me feel better about Corden’s chances. The one interesting thing that it managed, though, was that it meant he didn’t really need a monologue for his first episode. I mean, if this is a sign of things to come… if we’re in for a lot of video sketch comedies instead of monologues… great, I think I’d prefer it. But I also think they took advantage of the occasion for a chance at a certain idea. That’s not a criticism, incidentally, it’s a good idea; it’s just noteworthy that we’ll have to wait until tonight to see a “full monologue” from him (again, unless we’re just in for regular pre-filmed video skits.)

Like most talk shows of this sort, he had two guests, Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis. Unlike most shows like this that I’ve seen, he brought both guests out at the same time, so that they could speak to one another even when one segment is definitely more about one host than another (incidentally, I ran out of the room for a bit and missed most of the second interview segment, which was focused on Tom Hanks and seemed to be talking about something called “man spreading,” a way that some people sit to take up extra room on subway trains? I guess Tom Hanks was accused of that recently? Sounds like it’s not a big deal, though, given that the train was mostly empty.) Nothing amazing to comment on here, as one guest interview is pretty much like another (me thinking that is probably why I don’t watch many late night talk shows.) Ultimately, though, they were fun conversations about what Kunis and Hanks had been up to lately. After the Tom Hanks section was over, Corden’s band leader had a special question for them, an unusual hypothetical philosophical question about how people of the 1800s (might’ve been 1860s?) would have reacted to modern day life. Hanks gave the “correct” answer, that they lacked Velcro and, as such, effectively lived completely different lives.  (Also, it was awesome that Kunis referenced a Star Trek episode I watched ages ago.  I’ve not seen many Star Trek Enterprise episodes, but apparently one of the few I’ve seen is also one that Mila Kunis is aware of. It involved Velcro.)

Between the two interview segments, Corden ran something called “the show”, in which he and Tom Hanks quickly ran through most of the noteworthy films of Tom Hanks career. It was a fun idea, but I think the idea would’ve worked better if Hanks hadn’t been in so many movies. Still, some individual moments were good (especially Corden admitting that he still hadn’t seen Cloud Atlas, or didn’t understand it, and Hanks saying that it was fine, and it was a movie that really needed multiple viewings to get.) They ended with the Toy Story trilogy and concluded the segment with a rendition of You’ve Got A Friend In Me, which is a good way to end just about everything.

After the interview segments, the last real “thing” of the night was a musical sequence. Instead of a musical guest, it had Corden pretending to play the piano, and singing about everything they did on the show that night, saying that his dreams had come true by being given this chance, and promising to make the show good from there on out. I don’t know if I’d like to see that every night, but… I’d like to see him do more piano-songs. Maybe once or twice a week, singing about everything they’d done. While I sit here writing this, I’m realizing that the sequence was almost a stand in for the “What Did We Learn On The Show Tonight, Craig?” thing that Ferguson did for the majority of his run on the show, but it felt more classy. I don’t think that was intentional, but it’s an interesting comparison.

One thing I’ll definitely say about the show is that it has higher production values than Craig used and (more importantly) it’s more musical. I’d love it if James Corden dedicated his new show to being music-heavy. It’d be challenging, but ultimately I think that if the show does as much with music in the future as it did this time, I’d be thrilled, and even happy to watch it.

At the end of the day (literally), I enjoyed this show. It was fun. Corden came out strong, and avoided a lot of the mistakes that Seth Meyers made on his first night. I’ve heard that Meyers has improved and that he no longer just sounds like he’s doing nothing but the Weekend Update without a desk, and I’m glad for Meyers, but ultimately I didn’t wind up watching Meyers after he started running his show. But Corden? Corden, I think I’ll keep watching. For a bit at least. I don’t know if he’ll keep the production values up to this, but I can hope.  Good luck out there, Corden.

Harley Quinn’s New 52 Hardcover: Hot In The City   Leave a comment

Harley Quinn Vol 1

As a kid growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Harley Quinn has always been a favorite Batman character of mine.  By far the biggest breakout character from the 90s Batman Animated Series, Harley Quinn went from a one-note henchwoman who assisted The Joker on occasion to recurring villain in her own right.  Paul Dini (and the other writers) gave her the complexities that a lot of the other characters had, but since she was created on the show she wasn’t stuck to any of the archetypal frameworks that the others had.  Eventually becoming best buds with (and according to Paul Dini, an off-screen love interest for) Poison Ivy and having it revealed that she used to be The Joker’s psychiatrist at Arkham (first in the comic Mad Love, followed by an episode based on the comic), Harley demonstrated an interesting flair for making epic and unapproachable figures a bit more grounded.  Her recurring infatuation with The Joker has run the spectrum from delightfully honest and truly romantic down to terrifying, abusive, and manipulative, and her occasional attempts to not be a villain anymore have demonstrated a lot of the complexities of the real life when our own plans don’t go the way we expect them to.  She’s even gotten Batman to warm up a little since Batman knows that not everything is her fault when things go crazy around her.  All in all, she’s a great character.  Does the series hold up to the legacy, though?

Short answer: yes?  It’s honestly hard to tell where this lands.  The comic is written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti as a zany comedy of the day to day antics of everyone’s favorite insane clown lady villain (not counting fans of The Joker’s Daughter).  The basic plot of the story is that Harley Quinn has had her old life sorta blow up on her, but an old client of hers from the Asylum has given given her an apartment building in Coney Island.  So, she packs her bags and leaves Gotham to travel to New York.  Her building is filled with a curious assortment of tenants, but she discovers that she won’t quite have the cash to keep the building running just from her rent money.  So she gets a couple of jobs: during the day she’ll be a psychiatrist and therapist at a retirement center, and by night she’ll work as a member of a Roller Derby team.  So, her new life is off to an awesome new start!  Harley’s gonna make it after all!

Mary Tyler Moore Hat Toss

Incidentally, I love this choice.  I’ve always wanted Harley Quinn to actually do something with her psychiatry training that wasn’t in her back story, so getting a job helping people during the day sort of answers the question for me of just why we never see her using all of this training she has (even if it’s sometimes suggested that she only did the bare minimum so that she could make a fortune writing self-help books and tell-all tales of Arkham’s more colorful inmates.)  As for the Roller Derby thing, something feels “right” about it.  My knowledge of roller derbies and the surrounding culture is limited to a single episode of Psyche, but from that limited amount of training it seems like a fitting place for her to ply the skills that she gained while being a super criminal and suicide squad agent.  It’s just wild and violent enough that someone of her skill set could thrive (even if she’d be prone to breaking rules) but still legal enough for her to do it and not get in trouble for it.  Plus, the Harley Quinn themed roller derby costume on the cover/first issue makes for an interesting counterpoint to her classic streamlined Animated Series outfit.  (Sidenote: at what point exactly did DC decide that Quinn’s skin color had been permanently bleached white like The Joker’s?  Was it just a quick blink-and-you-miss-it panel in Death Of The Family?  I’m not sure when that decision was made, or if I like it.  It doesn’t really hurt the story, but every time I see it I think “Oh, right.  That’s canon now.”)

Now, her perfect life isn’t so perfect.  Apparently, someone’s put a massive amount of money on her head, and that money keeps increasing.  Bounty hunters and assassins keep arriving to collect the big bucks.  This provides some fun side stories, but I never quite feel like she’s actually in danger from any of these murderers out to kill her.  Worse, I feel like the revelation of who’s hiring the bounty hunters isn’t handled quite as well as it could be… don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun idea, but I think it could’ve been pulled off better on some level.  However, to the credit of the writers, they use the revelation of what’s sending the bounty hunters her way to exacerbate other issues in the story, and that almost makes it worth it.

That’s the main plot of the book, but it’s worth pointing out that the collection includes some things that aren’t part of that overarching plot.  There are a few one-shot side adventure issues tossed in (including the fourth-wall breaking Issue #0, a Valentine’s Day special (and who better to have a story talking about Mad Love?), and some other issues surrounding her new places of employment), and  a good portion of the middle of the story features a secondary tale where one of Harley Quinn’s patients turns out to be a former cybernetic spy who wants to enlist her help in tracking down some secret agents who’ve been living in the States for decades.  I felt a little uncomfortable at times with how zealously Syborg (the secret agent) and Harey pursued these other secret agents, but then I reminded myself that I wasn’t reading about a hero per se.  I was reading about a villain, one taught by The Joker no less.  I actually found this story more interesting than the main plot surrounding the mysterious assassins, though I’m glad that it wasn’t stretched out for much longer than it was.

Before this comic series came out, the creators talked about how they would plan on getting Harley into some different outfits since it’s unrealistic for someone to wear exactly the same clothes every day.  I spoke a little earlier about how I thought her Roller Derby outfit worked…but a lot of the other outfits don’t feel like they work as well.  Some of them do, sure.  Some of them, though, felt a little too much like they were drawn just for the purpose of having Harley wear something revealing.  Fortunately, this problem didn’t come up so often that it got in the way of everything else that was happening.

Ultimately, it was an interesting read, though I don’t think it was for me.  It’s definitely meant to be a goofier, sillier comic than most of DC’s line-up, but I was hoping for an edge of seriousness akin to Paul Dini’s Zatanna comic from a while back.  The good news is that the series is doing a great job of mixing its stories and weaving together different plot elements (and it left a lot of unresolved hooks for the future.)  I look forward to seeing more about where this series is going, but for right now I’m going to be reading them one collection at a time instead of as a monthly series.  The series is still finding its sea legs, I think, and has the potential to be awesome, but isn’t quite there yet.  Here’s hoping!

The Battle on Zaofu’s Doorstep   Leave a comment

Well, I just saw the sixth episode of Korra’s fourth season.  It was a fun ride, and made me want to play Adventure! more than any episode yet this season (which is saying something, because all of Book 4 has had a very Adventure! appropriate vibe.)  This episode, The Battle of Zaofu, brings us to the conflict that we know has been coming for quite some time.  Before I get into just what that conflict is (Hint: it’s the title of the episode), I should put up the customary Spoiler warning.  Don’t read beyond the images of Stephanie Brown unless you’re fine with spoilers (or have seen the episode itself, I guess.)  Take it away, Spoiler!

Spoiler

Good ol’ Spoiler, always willing to do her part for reviews on the Internet.  There’s actually a fantastic image of her casually reclining in a tree that I found out there, I’ve gotta figure out who made that one.  Anyway, though, on with the review…

As you’ll remember from the previous episode, but as I neglected to mention at the end of the review of it, Korra had convinced Kuvira to wait, have a truce, and prepare to discuss things (though the truce was definitely under Kuvira’s terms, more on that later.  Also, I blame my sickness last week for neglecting to mention that, and not the awesomeness of Zhu Li’s betrayal.)  Korra went back to let the people of Zaofu know what was happening, but she learned the disheartening news that Su Yin and the twins had already left to take the battle to Kuvira.  This episode begins with Su Yin and her twin sons in full ninja get up, ready to strike.

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Dressed in ninja outfits and sneaking into the enemy camp, they’ve decided that if they can capture Kuvira, the army (largely made up of conscripted soldiers who they believe don’t want to be there), they seek out Kuvira’s chambers in the military camp.  Kuvira uses Toph’s ground-seeing ability to make sure that someone’s in there, and that she’s alone.  They break in, and prepare for action when surprise surprise…

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It’s a trap!  It wasn’t Kuvira at all, it was Zhu Li.  Su Yin recognized Zhu Li, and Zhu Li asked Su not to hurt her just before the walls of the building came down and Kuvira, with a number of troops and soldiers, surrounded them.  Kuvira feigns disappointment at the violation of the truce and quickly takes them captive.

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Meanwhile, back in Zaofu, Kuvira announces (somehow) that she was unfairly attacked while she slept (or while she pretended to sleep while waiting for attackers…) and that she’s willing to let the rest of Zaofu remain alive if the remaining city leadership meets her at dawn to agree to a surrender.  Jinora and Opal have very different opinions on how the current situation should be handled, and while it’s not overtly stated in the story we get to see Korra trying her hand at being balanced and impartial.  Opal wants to rush in, guns blazing, to save the kidnapped victims (is it weird that I forgot that she’s Su Yin’s daughter until, like, the very end of this episode?) while Jinora insists that she keep to the vow of nonviolence that Opal made when she became an Air Nomad.  Korra points out that while the situation is tense, Kuvira was, after all, attacked in her sleep, and as such it’s understandable that she’d be a little less reasonable.

Meanwhile, we get a quick look at Bolin and Varrick on the train.  Varrick wakes up, coming out of a dream that sounds like an Idea Storm from season 2, and then lamenting that Zhu Li is gone.  Varrick is told that he needs to get to work on his experiments, and he says he’ll need an assistant.  After convincing the guards that the hands of any assistant will be in danger, Bolin is nominated to be the assistant (much to Bolin’s chagrin.)

Back to Zaofu, Korra, Opal and Jinora go out to meet with Kuvira.  An understanding cannot be reached, and so Kuvira is challenges Korra to a one on one battle for the fate of Zaofu.  Even though she’s still not back up to 100%, Korra agrees.  When the fighting begins, Korra realizes how much trouble she’s in as the first “round” of their fight doesn’t go well.

I want to pause for a moment and admit something: whenever Kuvira fights, I always think about it as “slap bracelet style” or “slap bracelet fighting.”  That makes it sound sillier than it is, because it’s deadly and borderline frightening to watch, but her ability to command strips of metal to rapidly wrap around her opponents reminds me so much of slap bracelets.  I want to stress that I don’t want to make light of Kuvira’s fighting technique here, but if I slip up in some future review and refer to it that way, that’s why.

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Back on the train, Bolin doesn’t know what “the thing” is when Varrick asks him to “do” it.  Baatar Jr. asks Varrick to explain what the project is and how it works, and Varrick tries to explain what he can.  He says that he’s looking into recreating the original explosion that gave him second thoughts about the project, but in a way so that the explosion can be “directed”.  He also manages a really subtle wink at Bolin as he’s saying this, but I don’t think that Bolin caught it.  Heck, I almost didn’t catch it.  It was done really well.

Back at Zaofu, the fight continues to go poorly.  Earlier, Opal had requested that Korra use her Avatar state, but even when the fight doesn’t go well Korra is refusing to use that option so easily, deciding that it needs to be a last resort.

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Back on the train, Bolin gets a screwdriver for Varrick but says that he can’t believe that Varrick is willing to help these people.  Varrick is asked a few technical questions about the spirit vine machine as Baatar Jr. tries to keep up with how it’ll function, and Varrick reveals that he had the idea for the project when he watched the giant Unalaq monster rampaging through Republic City, and mentions how it was the monster that set him free.

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And then he gives Bolin a really sly look and says “Trust me, kid, I know what I’m doing.”  Bolin still isn’t quite picking up on what Varrick’s working on, or the fact that it’ll help them out.  It’s also kind of amazing that Baatar Jr. isn’t working it out, either, since he’s right there when Varrick says that to Bolin.  I guess not seeing the wink or sly look work in Varrick’s favor here, but still.  I don’t level this as a criticism, mind you (especially if we take Varrick’s tone there for a lowered voice that Baatar Jr. might not have overheard while looking over the equipment) but I do find it funny.

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Soon, Varrick activates his machine, and every single Spirit Vine in the place starts to glow purple.  When asked what a certain noise is, Varrick says it’s the timer, and when pressed for more details he says it’s the timer for the bomb.  He casually announces that the guards have five minutes to leave their portion of the train, while he and Bolin stay behind.  The guards at first try to catch Varrick, but he pulls out a remote.  Baatar Jr. asks why Varrick would have both a timer AND a remote, and Varrick starts explaining the thought process, but quickly gets to the point that it helped him to cover all his bases.

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Back at the one-on-one Battle for Zaofu, Kuvira gets ready to finish the fight, but Korra enters the Avatar State.  Korra gets the upper hand, quickly using the power of all four elements to, let’s be fair here, almost instantaneously slam Kuvira into a losing position.  Just when Korra’s about to drop a rock on Kuvira, Kuvira looks up and appears to be in the Avatar state as well (it might be my imagination, but it almost looked like Kuvira had Korra’s face, which reinforces my thinking that there’s meant to be a similarity to the two characters beyond their names.)  Korra sees that, and it causes her to falter and, ultimately, fade out of the Avatar state, giving Kuvira the opening she needs.  Kuvira quickly reverses their roles and pins Korra to the air with metallic manacles that she’s holding in place.

Kuvira thin drops Korra to the ground and holds her in place with stone before reforming some of her metal so that it’s a series of sharp, cutty edges.  She moves in for what looks incredibly like a killing move, and Opal and Jinora quite reasonably intervene, using air to push Kuvira back.  Kuvira angrily declares that they’ve broken the arrangement, and orders her troops to attack the two airbenders.

Earlier I said that I’d get back to something about Kuvira, and I’d like to do that now.  This moment is very telling about Kuvira’s method of operation.  She has the forces to conquer people, and the military strategy required to do it well.  She has the resources to save or starve any region, and she always deals with people on those terms.  And when she deals with people? She gives them impossible situations.  Basically, her go-to strategy for any situation is to create a new situation where an agreement is made.  When that agreement is breached, she believes she has “the right” to come down on the people who break that agreement like a hammer.  This quality is what makes her a bully, but she’s smart about it.  She can’t abide Zaofu’s freedom because it becomes an area where she has no control, and thus no ability to make deals with it.  It’s also what makes her “unbalanced” if I can pull in the theme of the season.  Finally, it’s what makes her the villain of the season.  Unlike previous seasons, it’s just barely possible that she can be reasoned out of this strategy, and that she will be willing to give people freedom that she can’t control, but I highly doubt it.  We’ll have to see how the final part of the season unfolds.  Anyway, back to the review.

Opal and Jinora create a windstorm to push back the troops.  Jinora tells Opal to keep it up, and that she’s going to call for help.  She enters her meditative spiritual stance and the scene shifts to…

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…a painting session in Zaofu!  Ikki and Meelo are being tutored on their artistic skills by… I forget, is he another of Su Yin’s children, or is he a nephew?  Ikki is praised for letting her raw emotions and expressionism pour out onto the canvas.

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Meelo, meanwhile, is told that his art’s just horrible.  He’s only drawing what’s on the outside, not expressing what’s on the inside.  Which I think is hilarious, as it’s obvious that he’s got a ridiculous amount of artistic skill, as seen in a previous episode.  It’s a good commentary on how teachers of one style of art can’t always appreciate the talent and abilities of other styles of art.  (Also, this picture is yet another indication of Meelo’s future totalitarian rule of all.  Hopefully Korra can figure out how to talk Kuvira out of it so that she’ll have some practice for when Meelo’s megalomaniacal tendencies truly begin to show up.  Kidding, of course… maybe.)

Jinora’s spirit-self arrives then, and requests a quick extraction.  Meelo is ecstatic that he finally gets to see some action, and they rush off.

On the train, the guards finally finish evacuating what is now Varrick’s side of the train.  Varrick tells Bolin to “do the thing”, which Bolin still doesn’t get, and Varrick says something like “Uncouple the train cars!  Come on, kid, that was an easy one!”  (Probably not verbatim, my notes aren’t clear.)  Bolin asks how to turn the bomb off, but Varrick reveals that it can’t be shut off. Varrick makes peace with his impending death, while Bolin finds a hatch in the floor (that seems to be his skill this season, finding hatches in things), grabs Varrick, and they both drop through the hatch as Kuvira’s departing guards watch the massive spirit-energy explosion from a great distance away.

The guards are amazed that Varrick actually blew himself up, realizing just how crazy he was. In the crater, Bolin earth-bends himself and Varrick out of the crater wall and Varrick collapses on the floor, laughing, congratulating Bolin on “doing the thing.” Bolin is exasperated, and comments that he can’t believe how long Zhu Li worked for him.

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Back at the Battle for Zaofu, Meelo and Ikki arrive on a sky bison, and extract Korra just as she’s waking up. They start flying away, but have to hold Opal back from leaping down to try and rescue Su Yin.  The airbenders and Korra retreat on their sky bison, leaving Zaofu to it’s fate at the hands of conquering soldiers, who may well be relieved that they didn’t have to do any actual fighting.

In Zaofu, Kuvira demands that everyone kneel before her in deference, and everyone does… except for Baatar and his artistic son.  Baatar Jr. demands that they kneel in recognition of Kuvira’s rightful rulership, but Baatar just says that he’s very disappointed in Baatar Jr. (even going so far as to just call him Junior).  It’s definitely a moment that stings for Baatar Jr.  They’re taken away by guards.

Later, Kuvira is speaking to Baatar Jr. about the events on the train.  She double checks to make sure that there’s no possibility of survivors (ah, the weakness of villains everywhere, not checking for bodies), and Baatar Jr. says that he thinks he can replicate Varrick’s work, but he’ll need an assistant.  Zhu Li is right there, and Kuvira asks if she’d be willing to help pick up the spirit vine project for the creation of a super weapon, and Zhu Li says that it would be an honor.

Ultimately, a very strong episode.  In some ways, the Varrick and Bolin plot was more of an “A Plot” than Korra’s battle against Kuvira.  The episode carefully balanced itself between the martial arts battle and the train explosion plot, giving both of them a mini-three act structure within the confines of the rest of the episode.  With this episode down, we’re halfway done with the season and preparing for the second half.  Starting next week, Kuvira will be the (mostly) uncontested ruler of her Earth Empire, leaving the advocates of the Earth Kingdom with fewer options.  I’ve got a hunch that next week might shift back to Mako and Prince King Wu, though I might be getting ahead of myself.  Still, a trip to Republic City wouldn’t be a horrible idea, for either the Avatar and the airbenders or the Bolin and Varrick team.